How Government Intervention Stifles Immigrants in Europe

Government policies are preventing Europe from enjoying the social and economic benefits of immigration

Last week, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso expressed concern over the rise of nationalist, xenophobic, and protectionist rhetoric in Europe and the possibility that populist parties could gain seats in next year’s European Parliament elections.

Barroso’s concerns are well founded. Across Europe, Eurosceptic and nationalist parties have increased in popularity. Unfortunately for Barroso and many of his fellow European lawmakers, the rise of ignorant, populist, and sometimes violent xenophobic parties and movements in Europe is to a large degree a consequence of government policies, which do little to help promote social cohesion and actually restrict the economic potential offered by immigrants.  

Consider the so-called ghettoization of many European cities. In many parts of the U.K, France, and other European nations, whole sections of cities are dominated by foreign ethnic, cultural, and religious groups. This understandably causes resentment and anger among some natives, and can contribute to civil unrest. Of course, immigration is nothing new to Europe, which has experienced the movement of people for thousands of years. However, recent immigration to Europe seems to be something different, as Walter Russell Mead explained in The American Interest, some view immigrants from sub-Saharan African or Muslim backgrounds as being too removed from Europe's current culture to be easily assimilated. 

Unsurprisingly, across much of Europe the “perceived incompatibility” mentioned by Mead leads to concern about the so-called “Islamification” of Europe. This concern is demonstrated in part by the amount of literature on the subject of Muslim immigration to Europe, some of which warns of domestic radicalism and/or the supposed risks of immigrants having more children than natives. 

There can be no doubt that the current status of native-Muslim immigration relations in much of Europe is far from ideal, with at least one French politician questioning the compatibility of Islam and democracy and demonstrations by groups like the English Defence League. But this is in large part due to the ghettoization mentioned above, which does not encourage new arrivals to assimilate and hampers mobility.

The 2006 book Integrating Islam from the Brookings Institution does a good job at explaining not only the number of immigrants that have moved into government social housing projects built in the 60s and 70s outside urban areas in France, but the distinct culture that forms in part thanks to their isolation. 

Of course the fear of domestic radicalism would not disappear overnight were governments to withdraw from being involved in the building of social housing, but it would be one of the easiest ways for governments to promote mobility and assimilation. Indeed, governments would not have to withdraw from providing welfare altogether--the implementation of something like Milton Friedman's negative income tax would allow for the government to ensure the very neediest have security while allowing private markets to decide not only where immigrants will live but also how many there will be.

In the U.K. it is often said by pessimists that the country is too crowded. This is nonsense. An article published by the BBC last year highlights the fact that only 2.27 percent of England is built on. There is a vast amount of space for new housing and infrastructure in the U.K., one of the most densely populated countries in Europe. However, government regulations make building on a lot of the land in the U.K. difficult. According to the New Statesman’s George Eaton, British housebuilding is at its lowest levels since the 1920s. Many concerns about immigrant assimilation could be addressed if the government was not in the business of building houses and allowed private entities to do so instead. 

Many Europeans are not only concerned about the radical Islam some immigrants bring to their countries, xenophobic and protectionist groups in Europe are also worried about Roma and Eastern Europeans, who are considered not so much a perceived cultural threat as a threat to "jobs." The idea that employment can belong by right to this European or that is an absurd concept. 

In fact, in the U.K. recent immigrants make a net contribution to public finances and drive down housing prices. And while it is the case that in some Northern European countries such as Denmark, Finland, and Germany migrants are statistically significant recipients of welfare compared to the native population, research on 19 countries in Europe suggests that immigrants to the European Union as a whole are less likely to live on welfare than native populations and that there is no correlation between how much the European countries in question spend on unemployment benefits and the amount of immigration they experience. The “welfare magnet,” the concept that immigrants move to Europe primarily because of its generous welfare systems, is a myth in much of Europe. 

Without the government being involved in housing and welfare more broadly, the only arguments that could be mounted against immigration are cultural. The state should not have any role in shaping a nation’s culture, something that can be seen when the government gets involved in housing by creating a level of isolation that is not needed and would unlikely be seen were the state removed from housing and welfare, thereby contributing to the regrettable situation Europe is now facing. Without the government involved it would be the free market that would decide where immigrants lived, and free markets are better than politicians or government policies at reflecting attitudes and preferences.  

Of course, it is unlikely that were French and British governments to get out of the housebuilding business and implement a negative income tax immigrants wouldn't naturally form tight communities with people from their own native culture anyway--this has been the case throughout the history of immigration. However, what would almost certainly be different would be the size of these predominantly immigrant communities as well as their structures. Absent ghettoization induced by government housebuilding policies and the perverse incentives of an expansive welfare state, immigrants would have access to a freer market and conditions that reward assimilation and provide opportunities for meaningful integration into European society.

Recent events, such as the drowning of over 200 migrants off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, have highlighted that there is no shortage of human beings around the world who are not happy about where they were born and that many are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to get somewhere better. Europe, unsurprisingly, is one of the most popular destinations. European policy makers would be able to address many of the concerns surrounding immigration while also allowing their countries to benefit from the economic contributions of immigrants if they tried doing less and let markets work. 

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  • XR||

    Assimilation is a problem when you have a group that you want to assimilate. Americans wanted the Eastern and Southern Europeans to assimilate. They never wanted the Blacks to assimilate. Europe has some immigrant groups who are assimilatable, like the Turks. Arabs are might be assimilatable, it depends how interested one is in racial purity. Would you have a problem with your daughter marrying an assimilated Arab? Europe also has a lot of Blacks, who Europeans largely don't want to assimilate. Having Blacks moving into White European neighborhoods would likely increase votes for Le Pen.

  • OneOut||

    When assimilation is a problem it is a result of too many immigrants in too short a time period. Once their localized communities become self sufficient there is no longer any reason for the immigrant to assimilate. They begin to remember the home they left behind with fondness and nostalgia. They begin to impose the life they left behind on their new surroundings. They begin to turn their new home into the shit hole they fled from. This applies to Muslims in Europe as well as Californian's in Colorado.

  • Hilary||

    As a California native, I apologise on behalf of my fellow statesmen ruining your lovely state. I know (from my kin), Oregonians are not too fond of us either. My uncle always asks us to park in the back so his neighbours won't see our California licence plates.

  • Rrabbit||

    Color of skin is not much of a problem in most parts Europe. Mixed race relationships also are not much of a problem in most parts of Europe.

    Age structure is a problem: regardless of cultural background, the crime rate is highest among young, unemployed, unmarried males. The immigrant populations have a relatively high percentage of young males. And their unemployment rate tends to be high as they do not have the same local languages skills and education level as the native population. France, for example, has a high unemployment rate among young males with an immigrant background.

  • Mark22||

    Skin color and race is not much of a problem in most of Europe because Europe has segregated itself into tiny homogeneous enclaves through centuries of war, conflict, and ethnic cleansing. That's nothing to write home about. You'd get massive unrest if you even tried to unify northern Europe under a single language and government, let alone groups that are far more different than that.

  • Hilary||

    I have to agree with Mark on this one. In my experience, Europeans and Britishers are openly against assimilation. The last time I was in Vienna many people I spoke with were vehemently against the Turks for instance. And I'm talking professional people, not backwater bumpkins (not to offend those lovely, rural, people either). It is ingrained in their psyche. There are other examples in other European countries that are similar. Bottom line, Europe does not equal the USA. There's no unifying idea to oblige assimilation. It's a messy business.
    p.s. Barroso is a joke.

  • granite state destroyer||

    But the Turks who come to Austria have no interest in assimilating, and expect Austria to change its culture to meet their needs. Uncontrolled immigration is a disaster for Europe.

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  • KRoyall||

    The reason why average people in these nations are opposing further immigration is the results of previous waves. They have lost jobs due to cheap immigrant labor. Those immigrants that aren't taking their jobs are getting on government benefits.

    Others, like the Muslims, are setting up their own conclaves and refusing to assimilate. They are in fact rejecting the culture of the countries they came to. They are insisting on setting up their own societies within, imposing Sharia Law when they can get away with it.

    Libertarians engage in more magical thinking than people of any other stripe. They are blinded by their ideological purity, living in a philosophical Disneyland where every immigrant is a hard working asset to society.

    Even Friedman warned that unfettered immigration in a society with a generous welfare state is a bad idea. In the US, we are getting 10's of million of undereducated poor people even though we already have too many in that category among the native born.

    Even if the immigrants don't get on benefits they don't pay enough in taxes to offset the cost of normal government services like schools. Those citizens that lose their jobs to the new arrivals DO end up on the dole. It's a bad deal for Europe and a bad deal for us. We don't have the economic dynamism we once had to assimilate millions of people like we once did.

  • Kill all the economists||

  • J_West||

    The articles blames government, not the perpetrators, for the dysfunctions of mass third world immigration.

    ignorant, populist, and sometimes violent xenophobic

    "Ignorant" and "xenophobic" are labels you stick on people/groups to dismiss their ideas without a hearing. The fact is, many Europeans have legitimate concerns about the submersion of their own civilization.

    Third world migrants into Europe have very high violent crime rates. Far more violence has been committed against Europeans by immigrants than the other way around. This includes a long history of immigrants rioting and burning cars. Also, various pro-immigrant "anti-racist" groups routinely initiate violence against European nationalist groups. Perhaps Reason could cover the violence by immigrant and "anti-racist" groups, and wag your finger at them for being "ignorant?"

    I'll add that gun control laws make it difficult for Europeans to defend themselves against this criminality.

    Of course, immigration is nothing new to Europe, which has experienced the movement of people for thousands of years.

    You mean movements of peoples associated with the Fall of Rome, the Islamic jihads of the Dark Ages, the Mongol invasions, the Ottoman conquests? You are implying that the current wave of mass third world migrations are a threat to European civilization and freedom. Would you justify those movements on the grounds that people have a right to move where they want to?

  • J_West||

    Google "Emma West." A British woman who was arrested for telling immigrants on a bus that they did not belong in England.

    Right out of "1984."

    Reason could cover this and many more attacks on free speech in the name of mass migration. The reality is that mass migration means less liberty for indigenous Europeans.

    ... there is no shortage of human beings around the world who are not happy about where they were born and that many are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to get somewhere better.

    There must be at least a billion people on this planet who want to move to a better country. If they did so, first world countries would be swamped by unassimilatable immigrants who would bring with them the very characteristics which have wrecked their own homelands. Has it ever occurred to you that the poverty, violence, corruption and tyranny of many third world countries is the product of the people who inhabit them? And that for whatever reason (cultural, genetic, psychological) these pathologies are inherent to them and will carry over into whatever lands to which they move?

    What happens when these migrants do not play it by the rules of the market? When they promote Sharia law, or set up no-go zones in their banlieus, or burn down your neighborhood?

    Europe is not a shopping mall, open to all who can wander in the front doors. It has a distinct civilization. That civilization – and liberty – are being wrecked by the mass migration of third worlders.

  • Hilary||

    Living in the UK one cannot help but feel the social tension in the cities. I have lived in three English cities now and have experienced this unrest. It's not so much the immigrants of the Muslim persuasion that are a 'problem' (they tend to keep to themselves, unless they have a loudspeaker on top of their car in central London attempting to convert the non-believers with audible bombardment).

    It's more the Eastern Europeans at the moment. In my experience I am shocked if I encounter someone in the service industry that is not of Eastern origin. The issue is not whether or not they are hard working (they most certainly are!), it is a comfort issue. I also can't help from feel that the English brought this upon themselves. They have encouraged everyone to get a first degree with subsidised university fees and discouraged trade schools. This, combined with the availability of benefits has created a massive void in the workplace. Meanwhile creating opportunities for immigrants to find work in the entry-level/service field that the natives might turn their noses up at. I can't help from seeing a parallel between California and England.

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  • MarkinLA||

    The indigenous people of Europe were not given a choice when the governments crammed these immigrants down their throats without any input from the people and any discussion of the effects. In addition, affirmative action like programs made the indigenous second class citizens in their own country.

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